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Vol. LXV, No. 43
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

SHAKESPEARE, YOU’VE DONE IT AGAIN: William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall, center) is being lauded and celebrated by an appreciative audience after a performance of another successful play.

Anonymous:Intriguing Mystery Suggests That Shakespeare Was a Fraud

Kam Williams

Who really wrote the works of William Shakespeare? That question has been the subject of speculation among academics for centuries. The authorship of his poems and plays has been attributed to dozens of people, most notably, Christopher Marlowe, William Stanley, Sir Francis Bacon, and Edward de Vere — the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Ostensibly, Shakespeare’s humble roots and the lack of evidence that he had much of a formal education, has caused some scholars to doubt that he could have authored so many masterpieces of English literature. This has led some scholars to argue that only a nobleman would have been capable of writing such sophisticated material.

Anonymous revives the controversial theory that the Earl of Oxford served as Shakespeare’s ghostwriter, in spite of a plethora of problems with that suggestion. For example, when the earl died in 1604, ten of Shakespeare’s plays had yet to be published. Nonetheless, provided you are willing to ignore many similar historical inaccuracies, the picture is a delightful mystery movie.

The film is a change for Roland Emmerich, who has been associated with such bombastic blockbusters as Independence Day and Godzilla. In Anonymous he has toned down his work considerably and produced a multi-layered mystery which uses subtlety and insinuation instead of special effects and pyrotechnics.

Narrated by Sir Derek Jacobi, the film opens and closes on Broadway in present-day New York City. The plot is based upon a secret financial arrangement between the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans), and the alcoholic commoner William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall). Presumably, at that time the earl was a prolific playwright who preferred to remain anonymous and Shakespeare was a poor struggling actor.

Edward de Vere’s need for a surreptitious way to stage his anti-establishment plays fit well with Shakespeare’s desire for fame and fortune. However, because Shakespeare was presumably virtually illiterate, the ruse would have been hard to hide from most of his contemporaries in the theater world.

Meanwhile, de Vere himself had a host of his own issues to deal with, such as being the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave) and possibly having fathered a child with his putative mother. Throw in a jealous wife (Antje Thiele) and an ambitious father-in-law (David Thewlis), with designs on the throne, and you’ve got the ingredients for a convoluted mystery, dare I say it, of Shakespearean proportions.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for violence and sexuality. Running time: 130 minutes. Distributor: Columbia Pictures.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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